Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Chris Foote-Wood (L 09)

My experience: 40 years as a district councillor, including six years as Council Leader, also a County Councillor (Leader of the Opposition) and Parish Councillor (Chairman). Executive Member of the Association of District Councils, Council Member of the Local Government Association, North East Assembly (Vice Chair), EU Committee of the Regions (Group spokesperson). Now Honorary Alderman, Wear Valley and County Durham.

Power of general competence - a power much lacking in former years, now needs to be reinforced and clarified.

Abolition of Standards Board – I agree, it has been a complete waste of time and money and of no value whatsoever; rather it has been counter-productive and has encouraged hundreds of trivial and vexatious complaints, mainly between councillors.

Senior pay policy statements – I agree. Councils need to justify large salaries paid to senior council officials, including bonuses, enhanced redundancy and pension payments, golden hellos and golden goodbyes which in general should be banned in local government.

Local referendums – I agree

Voluntary & community bodies to bid to run local authority services and buy land for community use – I agree.

Abolish regional strategies – I do not agree. For major developments with a region-wide impact, regional transport links, ports and airports need to be agreed on a regional basis. This could be done by the local authorities and LEAs working together on an agreed basis.

Neighbourhood development orders & plans – I agree. People need to know what is planned for their area, what is allowed and what is not allowed.

Compulsory pre-application consultation – I agree, but only for plans which have a neighbourhood or area impact. Individual home improvements still need to be notified to immediate neighbours, but pre-application consultation would be too onerous for minor plans and home improvements.

Planning enforcement – needs strengthening; powers are needed for strong and urgent action in cases of blatant disregard of planning rules; such breaches should count against a retrospective application, otherwise applicants who respect planning rules and do not start developments prior to getting planning permission are penalised.

Reform of social housing – I need to see the detailed proposals before commenting. What is needed is finance for local authorities to build affordable homes and social housing in areas of greatest need.

Abolition of Home Information Packs – yes of course. HIPs have been a complete waste of time, effort and expense, and have been largely ignored by home-buyers.

Additional powers on housing and regeneration for the London Mayor – I leave it to the London Boroughs to comment, but my inclination is against such powers for the Mayor.

Abolition of the London Development Agency – I agree. What is needed is a London (or South East) Relocation Agency to assist businesses and industry move to other regions. This would help relieve the pressure and congestion in London, and bring empty and unused land and premises in the regions into use at cheaper rates, bringing jobs to areas of highest unemployment. Firms would operate more efficiently, staff who transferred to the regions would enjoy a better life, and the economic and social gap between the South-East and the rest of the country would be reduced.

January 2011